4. When you’re frustrated, take a breather.
Common wisdom says that when we get stuck on a problem, the best way forward is to concentrate and work harder. Not true! A consistently active brain is a death trap for creativity. Working hard is a good thing, but the best way to generate new ideas when you’re frustrated is to stop what you’re doing.
In his most recent book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” Jonah Lehrer examined the provenance of ingenuity. In an interview on NPR’s "Fresh Air," he described the necessity of letting yourself off the hook when you’re stuck. "When you look at where insights come from, they often come when we least expect them,” he said. “In fact, that’s one of the defining features of moments of insight, that they only arrive after we stop looking for them. So, if you're an engineer and you’re stumped by your technical problem, chugging caffeine at your desk and chaining yourself to your computer, you're going to be really frustrated. You're going to waste lots of time. You may look productive, but you're actually wasting time. At that moment, you should go for a walk. You should play some ping-pong. You should find a way to relax."
Or, as Honoré put it in his book, “'Fast Thinking’ is rational, analytical, linear, logical. It is what we do under pressure, when the clock is ticking; it is the way computers think and the way the modern workplace operates; it delivers clear solutions to well-defined problems. ‘Slow Thinking’ is intuitive, woolly and creative. It is what we do when the pressure is off, and we have the time to let ideas simmer at their own pace on the back burner. It yields rich and subtle insights.”
5. Make sure your leisure activities are actually leisurely.
While working out may be your release after a hectic day at work, it’s important to be mindful of your physical limitations. “Every year, millions of people around the world suffer sports- and gym-related injuries,” Honoré wrote. “Many are caused by pushing the body too hard, too fast, too soon. Even yoga is not immune.”
That doesn’t mean working out is bad—just that exercise, like life, requires balance. If you’re an avid runner used to hitting the pavement or treadmill seven days a week, try taking a break for a couple of those days or swap running for activities that are easier on the joints— like swimming or lifting weights. If you’re really into yoga, listen to your body. If you’re feeling depleted or distracted, you don’t have to do a handstand in the middle of the room. Child’s pose is good enough.
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